Dam failure feared in Puerto Rico, thousands evacuated

Communications issues hamper evacuations downstream of failing Puerto Rican dam Guajataca Lake
Communications issues hamper evacuations downstream of failing Puerto Rican dam Guajataca Lake
Author

25 September, 2017

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, on Saturday, said the damages to the island from superstorm Hurricane Maria "is the greatest catastrophe in its modern history". She has aunts and uncles and many in-laws in Puerto Rico.

Authorities flew over the island Saturday, and were stunned by what they saw.

"Everything is down. They have no power, no water".

"It was devastating to see all that kind of debris in all areas, in all towns of the island", Jenniffer Gonzalez, the island's non-voting representative in Congress told CNN. "[The hotel manager] evacuated us into a ballroom".

Just as concerning to the island is likely to be the impact Hurricane Maria has caused to tourism - which will be especially hard felt since it was one area of the economy that had been growing.

The storm killed at least 25 people, including at least 10 in Puerto Rico, as it churned across the Caribbean, according to officials and media reports.

The timeliness of U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds will play into how quickly Puerto Rico gets back on its feet, said S&P Global Ratings analyst David Hitchcock. Some described the conditions in their communities as "apocalyptic" and said there have been incidents of looting in both homes and stores.

Angelo Ortiz, 55, of Brooklyn, and a member of Latin Americans for Academics, Arts and Athletics, helped supervise the effort and noted, "We don't know how to say no when it comes to our people". "This is going to be a long road". "The idea that the dam is collapsing is totally false". We are doing this so we can send this directly to the island. "Then on Monday, we are going to Philly, and then it will be shipped to Puerto Rico".

Equally welcome was his announcement that he plans to visit Puerto Rico.

Saturday night, several families were reunited after days of no contact. "I've never seen something like that", she said.

Outside her store, more than 100 people stood in line waiting to get money out of an ATM machine and hoping there would still be some cash left when their turn came. "As much as we would anyone else", Lori McFarlane said. It's the only access to cellphone service for miles. "Nobody has reached out to say 'ok hey, what can we do, '" Berumen added.

Telephone service was also unreliable, with numerous island's cell towers damaged or destroyed.

"We lost our house, it was completely flooded", said resident Carmen Gloria Lamb, a resident near the rain-swollen Guajataca. "The integrity of the structure has been compromised in a significant way".

Unsafe surf and rip currents driven by the storm were expected along the southeastern coast of the United States mainland for several days, the National Hurricane Center said. "A key component to reopening the supply chain will be the availability of truck power to move the loads to their inland destinations and the ability of our customers to receive cargo", Hourihan said.

Maria is a Category 3 storm and is expected to stay well off the East Coast, but the system is generating swells along the southeastern coast.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday approved a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, a welcome and needed step as it will make federal assistance available to Puerto Ricans affected by the storm.


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